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Roommates: What it's like to have a third wheel in relationships

April 19, 2024

Roommates are an iconic part of college, especially for freshmen at Michigan State University. However, with such a small space for two or more people to live in, issues like a lack of privacy and personal space, living habits and communication can arise.

When significant others are thrown into the loop of already-cramped dorm rooms, how is the dynamic between roommates affected?

For human biology sophomore Hannah Ebyson, bringing over significant others doesn’t negatively affect her friendship with her roommate.

Both Ebyson and her roommate are in relationships, she said, so bringing their partners to their room hasn’t been an issue throughout the year.

"Me and my roommate do a pretty good job of like arranging our schedules so that we’re not there at the same time and we’re also pretty close with our suitemates as well, so it never has really been an issue that’s been needed to be brought up or anything," Ebyson said. "Usually, all three of us are (never) there at the same time, but if we are, it’s not too bad actually and we haven’t run into any problems."

Similarly, human biology sophomore Naina Cheeti said that because she and her roommate have a good relationship, bringing her significant other to their dorm doesn’t necessarily bother her roommate.

However, with Cheeti being the only one between them in a relationship, she said she feels as though the dynamic between her and her roommate is "strained" when she brings her partner over.

"I do feel like I have a good relationship with my roommate, but I feel like it’s still a little uncomfortable," Cheeti said. "I feel like I’m inconveniencing her, but also like it’s tough for me and my significant other to spend time together. So, overall, it’s fine, but it’s obviously slightly uncomfortable most of the time."

Human biology sophomore Kylie Raynor said she doesn’t usually bring her partner over because she has the option to go to his apartment.

"I’m usually pretty conscious (of) the fact that this is her space too, so I try not to bring him back because he also has an apartment that is a little bit more private," Raynor said. "I think I’ve only brought him back once, and she’s been understanding of what my needs are as well as his needs."

Similarly, neuroscience freshman Julia Hellin-Lopez said that she doesn’t mind when her roommate brings her significant other over as long as it is communicated beforehand.

"Before we started the year, we did make an agreement where if each other’s significant others was to come (over), or if they wanted to have some space for them, to just give each other 30 minutes notice before. (That way) we can just come and get our stuff and then leave so we can each have private time with them," Hellin-Lopez said. "Just communicate in general."

When significant others are present in the room, however, sometimes even the friendliest dynamics between roommates can turn awkward.

"It’s kind of a little awkward because (my roommate) will feel like, 'oh, I don’t want to just be in their space,' or she’ll like say something like small talk and then she’ll go somewhere else," Cheeti said. "So it is a little bit awkward, but it’s mostly the same."

Raynor said she tries to foster conversation between her partner and roommate when they are together to ensure a comfortable environment. 

"We usually have a conversation, a three way conversation, and she’s totally fine with that," Raynor said. "I usually give her a heads up beforehand so she’s ready for it, so she’s not surprised."

But what about overnight stays?

For Hellin-Lopez, her roommate never invites her partner to stay overnight when she’s in the room and instead opts to spend time with him during the day. On the other hand, Ebyson said her roommate doesn’t react negatively and usually tries to find another place to spend the night to give Ebyson and her partner some privacy.

Some roommates establish rules at the beginning of the year regarding partners coming over, staying for an extended period of time, etc. in order to avoid conflict later down the line.

However, Cheeti said she and her roommate don’t have explicit rules, but makes sure to communicate with her roommate beforehand that her significant other would be coming over. 

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"I wouldn’t say we have any rules, but I just make sure to tell her when he’s coming over, how long he’ll stay over, and stuff like that," Cheeti said. "And then on her part, I don’t really say 'oh, you have to be out of the room,' but I think it’s kind of an unspoken thing, like, ‘oh, if he is over, I’ll try to be out of the room for a little bit.'"

Even with the right precautions, however, tensions can still rise between roommates; Ebyson said she thinks a lack of communication is a key contributor to this.

"I feel like (that) is probably the biggest part with having your significant other over a lot, but just personally with me and my roommate, as long as we communicate about things, it’s perfect," she said.

Like Ebyson, Cheeti said being noncommunciative and allowing tensions to build up inevitably leads to a hostile environment.

"Just talk it out," Hellin-Lopez said. "Be like ‘hey, this is what would be okay, this is what I would not be okay (with)'... just boundaries."

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